The Bible also contains examples of flogging that are figurative or symbolic. In several places in Proverbs we read of a spirit that has been flogged (NIV “crushed”) Heartache can be unbearable; it can beat down one’s spirit like a whip on the bare back, robbing us of joy and leaving up physically exhausted (Prov 15:13; 17:22; 18:14). Sometimes that heartache is caused by those who speak maliciously about us. That is why the tongue itself is likened to the whip that delivers a flogging (Job 5:21).

David was given an array of wonderful promises (2 Sam 7), including the promise that his rule would pass to his songs, thus forming a royal dynasty. The Lord warned, however, that when any of David’s descendant traveled on godless paths, it would lead to that person being flogged. “I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands” (2 Sam 7:14; read also Psa 39:10; 89:32).

David’s grandson Rehoboam deployed the whip rhetorically as his kingdom teetered on the brink of division. He could try to hold together his fracturing kingdom with kindness or coercion; in the end he chose the latter. Subjects from the northern part of his kingdom asked Rehoboam to lighten the burdens they had carried under his father. Rehoboam’s response precipitated the shattering of his kingdom: “My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions: (1 Kings 12:14).

Even Jesus made a whip out of cords and used it to clear the temple of animals sellers and money changers (John 2:15). This was clearly a literal act, and the flailing whip helped Jesus create the intended disruption. But given what we know of Jewish flogging, we see important symbolism attached to his use of a whip. This was the tool used by Jewish leaders to embarrass and hurt Jews who had gone astray. Thus his use of whip became a metaphorical flogging of the temple leadership who ran the temple market in a way that was disruptive to the intended spirit of worship there.

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